Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Month in Review: September, 2011

Ah, another month shot to Hell.

So, where are we?  Ah, yes, it's been a very strange little month.  Since I've cut back on the daily ... and weekly ... output, it's been interesting.  I don't even though I've gotten around to posting a music blog in a while.

So start with, we opened the month with a new concept from August: Characters answering Surveys.  In this case, I used Scott Murphy.

Then I looked into how terror can also be a form of communication: sometimes, the most intimidating characters are the ones you least expect. And, sometimes, they're just in your face.

Then there was how to torture characters: with some JMS, and some Jim Butcher.  Muwhahahahaha!!!!!

Yes, I've been having too much fun around here.

Can you tell?

Speaking of which, there was also my Impossible Odds blog, focusing on million to one odds.

Anyway, there was also another Self Defense review.  In this case, I covered how I spent my 9-11; mostly it was learning how to save a life.... no, I'm not joking.  How to save someone from chokes, and guns, and knives.  I also covered the latest in bulletproof clothing, and how to spot a concealed weapon, and such ...

Oh, and I also looked back on September 11, 2001.

Also: DC Comics rebooted their universe, and I'm not that happy about it. Though I'm told I'm dead wrong.

I did a review of The Expendables..... The Pain! The Pain!

And, there was Talk like a Pirate Day, where I got to be lazy ... in other words, I had nothing for that day, and I was saved by the realization it was September 19th.

And, finally, we had the return of Karina Fabian, discussing her new book Mind Over Mind. She gave us Ten Reasons to Love Science Fiction, an interview, and my review of the novel.

Anyway, I thought this was a good, fun little month.

And I've already started on the blogs for October.

Enjoy, all.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Impossible Odds: From Masada to Talisman

"Whether it's the Trojan War, the Battle of Thermopylae, or the Last Stand at the Alamo, many of the famous battles in history were sieges in which small forces took on much larger armies. Unfortunately, sieges don't make good stories because the smaller force won. They make the history books because the little guys fought well, before they died." ~Michael Westen, Burn Notice. Last stand, Ep 4.18
I like thousand to one odds.  Love 'em.  Can't get enough of them. Make it an intelligent war, I'm with you all the way.

300 Spartans (with about 10,000+ other Greeks) versus one hundred thousand (or a million, depending who you ask) Persian Imperial forces?* I'm there.

Nearly seven hundred Jewish rebels vs. a Roman legion at Masada?** I'm with you ...

The Alamo ... Okay, not so much, but I'm more familiar with the players involved, and I can't say that I liked any of them, on any side.

A hundred thousand Orcs of Mordor versus Gondor? That's at least worth an Academy Award....

In my own writing, I have a tendency to give the bad guys the upper hand as much as possible.  I try not to leave it as a matter of "evil badguy gains upper hand because he's using underhandd methods, while virtuous goodguy never sinks so low." Anyone who had read even one my self defense articles knows better.  When in doubt, bite a nose off, pull at an ear, gouge the eyes, and, of course, kick 'em in the groin, whenever possible.  My characters fight like their lives depend on it, usually because it does.

No, when I give the bad guys the upper hand, it's because they either have better training, better equipment, more people, or all of the above.

That's when I whip out The Anarchist's Cookbook, and go to work.  Because when my characters are out-manned  outgunned, outmaneuvered, and when things have stopped looking grim and have moved on to "we're all going to die" ....

That's when my characters get smart, get sneaky, and become very, very dangerous.


I've done it a few times in my books.  In A Pius Legacy (book three, should book one ever be published), I've practically got the army of darkness on our heroes' doorstep, and not one of my heroes even looks like Bruce Campbell.

I've got a murder mystery series on my hard drive that involves a writer, and a nerd, who's being hunted by assassins .... however, he got very good grades in chemistry, will hit people with everything and the kitchen sink, and he knows how to kill people with a pen.

The list goes on.

Besides, if it's a fair fight, you know how things go in fiction: the protagonist wins ...

However, when you have lopsided odds, and an author who has shown s/he's quite willing to assassinate any of his/her characters at will ... well then, that's when things get interesting, now, isn't it?






*Everyone by now should have at least heard of the story of Thermopylae ... aka The Hot Gates ... aka "The Gates of Fire" (which is my personal favorite translation) ... You may have seen the ads for the film 300.


**If you've never heard of Masada, in 70 AD, you had Israelites versus the Roman Empire. Only this wasn't Mossad or the IDF, but the sicarii, or knifemen. By 73 AD, the war was lost, and the last of the sicarii were held up in an old mountain fortress called Masada.

Originally, it was a story of how 700 rebels held out against the siege of a Roman legion, until the Romans finally breached the walls, only to find everyone had committed suicide, rather than be taken hostage again.

Recent research has concluded that the tale is a little different than originally reported -- the sicarii of Masada fought to the last man, woman, and child.

To this day, the Israeli Defense Force takes an oath: "Masada Shall Not Fall Again."

***Isn't it sad that this blog needs footnotes? :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Suffer characters suffer!" Jim Butcher & JMS

I love screwing around with my characters, about as much as I like messing around with my audience.

Over time, we've talked about who can you trust in A Pius Man, how I like to keep my characters vague ... sometimes the most vague being the one who is the most blunt.

Now, I didn't get into writing to be a sadist of my own personal playthings. Unlike some authors, like J. Michael Straczynski, I don't "torture my characters." In some cases, like JMS, he does it literally.

And guys like Jim Butcher have literally said "Suffer characters, suffer!" in describing his writing style.  Back at DragonCon, he practically leaped at the microphone when asked about beating up on characters, and said "I'll take that one."

In my case, I just enjoy giving them mental problems that confuse the hell out of them.

And, also in my case, I like throwing in a love story, just to screw with some of them.

I've been in love.  As someone with two BAs, a masters degree, and more PhD credits than I want to think about, dealing with women has been one of the more interesting situations I've ever had to deal with.

So, I took what has turned out to be one of my most frighteningly intelligent characters, Scott Murphy, and gave him a different problem to work on: not only does he have to figure out who killed an al-Qaeda terrorist, but he also has to figure out ........ "Am I falling in love?  Damnit!"

It's fun watching characters beat their heads against a wall in frustration, especially when they try to logic their way out of a romantic situation.

Okay, I have to steal the line....

Suffer, characters, suffer!!!!!!!

I feel like there should be a "muahaha" in there somewhere.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DVD Review: The Expendables

I've done some book reviews here and there, so I thought I would try my hand at DVDs.

Since this blog does cover things that blow up, I would start at the most likely candidate: The Expendables.

You may have seen the ads: this movie has practically every major action star in the last thirty years: Ahh-nuld (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Bruce Willis in bit parts, with main roles filled by Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgen, with Mickey Rourke fresh off of the set of Iron Man 2, if his hair is to be any judge.

When one starts viewing, you know from the beginning that this isn't going to be a great work of art, or even a lot of great acting. This isn't Shakespeare, but we can at least hope for something around the level of a good Schwarzenegger movie (remember those? I think the last one starred Vanessa Williams and James Caan).

If you're expecting a stellar review of this movie, turn back now.
(More below the break)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Talk like a pirate day ... Or, how to be a lazy blogger

Today is talk like a pirate day!  Which means what, exactly?

Which means that it's a great excuse for me to be completely lazy, and post pirate stuff.

And use a lot of R's.

How cheat?  Well, you all remember the APM story of The Pirate King, right?  Well, if you don't, you might want to check out how I would deal with pirates of the Caribbean .... okay, Somali pirates, but what the heck.  It's one of the complete stories of A Pius Man, constantly updated for your amusement.

We also have flashbacks to the Wiki Pirates, Harry Potter and the Pirate Queen, and, of course, explaining what the heck Talk like a Pirate Day actually is.

Like I said, lazy blogging 101.

Enjoy, all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: Mind Over Mind, by Karina Fabian

For those of you who missed yesterday's interview with guest Karina Fabian, the author of Mind Over Mind, a little recap.

Deryl (the name is NOT mispelled) Stephen is a teenager with a few issues. He has great powers of empathy .... so great, that he will occasionally experience other people's feeling exactly as they if they were his own.  The butler to his rich aunt and uncle is a drunk, so Deryl smashes the liquor before he goes on a binge. Deryl finds and stops a rape, and has to knock himself out before he exchanges one rapist for another.

And, oh, yeah, he's being contacted by space aliens.

So, one or two people have considered him more than a little insane, which is why his address at the start of Mind Over Mind is the local insane asylum.

Enter one Joshua Lawson, who's just there for the summer, a quick job before moving on to other things.  His method of therapy: accept the delusion, and teach patients to work within their own little world.

Which is a good thing, because it looks like some of Deryl Stephen's delusions are actively trying to kill him.

If I read the book correctly, it looks like Deryl's father came for a one-night stand from another galaxy, and Deryl had inherited a sacred position -- he is the all-knowing, all seeing Ydrel (I said the name wasn't misspelled), of the planet Kanaan.  The job of the Ydrel is to provide answers to anything asked of him.

Anthony Ainley from the
original Doctor Who
However, Kanaan is in the middle of an interplanetary war.

The people who ask Deryl for information think he's an angel to help them against their enemies – an alien race who thinks that their world is the promised land.

On the other side, there is "The Master," an alien who seems quite interested in training Deryl as a weapon ... and may get him killed doing it ....

However, every time I read about "The Master," I immediately saw Anthony Ainley from the original Doctor Who.

One would think that this would make for more than enough of a science fiction epic, and move on.  It's certainly a great foundation for it.

However, the book is mostly told from the perspective of Joshua Lawson, who has enough trouble with his new job. His boss hates him, especially when Joshua is right; and Joshua seems to be developing feelings for one of the nurses, Sachiko Luchese ...

Yes, the nurse is named like a cross between a General in the Japanese Imperial Army, and a mafia godfather -- something I suspect may have been done for the express purpose of one bad pun in the middle of the novel. But that's neither here nor there.

In fact, Joshua and Sachiko's romance takes up a good chunk of the plot, though it really doesn't mention "romance" on the back of the book.

Enough of the summary, time for the review (below the break).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Interview with "Mind Over Mind" Author Karina Fabian


Yesterday, we had guest blogger Karina Fabian, author of Mind over Mind (editor of Infinite Space, Infinite God II, etc, etc) give us her views on writing science fiction.

Today, we get another shot at Madam Fabian, were we get to ask about her latest novel Mind Over Mind.  Because, apparently, she seemed to enjoy the last interview we had with her.

I'll see if I can do better this time .... muwhahahahaha....

Sorry, I had the switch jammed on "evil" for a moment....

Before we begin, the back cover of the book reads as follows:
Deryl Stephen’s uncontrollable telepathic abilities have landed him in a mental health institution, where no one believes in his powers.

But when Joshua Lawson, a student of neuro linguistic programming, takes part in a summer internship, he takes the unique step of accepting Deryl’s reality and teaches him to work with it. As Deryl learns control, he finds his next challenge is to face the aliens who have been contacting him psychically for years—aliens who would use him to further their cause in an interplanetary war.

On the one side of said war, there is Tasmae, the Miscria, of the planet Kanaan, who seeks out and contacts Deryl (not a misspelling, but the way) for information on everything from growing crops to making explosives (which goes over well in an insane asylum). On the other side is a being known simply as "The Master," who trains Deryl for combat, whether he wants it or not.

On with the interview .... (below the break)


Monday, September 12, 2011

Guest Blog: Karina Fabian on Writing Science Fiction.

Once upon a time, very long ago (okay, back in April), we had a guest blogger -- Karina Fabian, author of .... a whole lot of novels, and editor of Infinite Space, Infinite God II.

Guess what: she's back, with a new book, Mind Over Mind, a science fiction / fantasy piece (and there are reasons it's a bit of both), so I decided to keep her blog topic simple.

I asked her to blog "On the joys and wonders of writing SF."

She gave me a top ten list.

Here we go.....


Top Ten Reasons to Love Reading or Writing Science Fiction
From the Home Office in FabianSpace

1. Explore Strange New Worlds. Whether it's traveling to another planet, exploring the future, or even seeing how the past would change if you altered some aspect like, say sticking a small West Virginia town in the middle of the Black Forest in 1632, you will find something completely new.

2. To seek out new life. This doesn't have to mean alien life, either. A science fiction setting can give new life to an old plot, or a new way at looking at our own society. Recently, I revisited an old favorite, ALIEN NATION. A sci-fi cop show from the 90s, it was really more about racial issues in a big city.

3. To boldly go! It's sometimes easier as a writer to explore a controversial issue in a way that will make people think when you put it in a setting that's removed from the present day society. Science fiction also gives you a means to take chances. Nichelle Nicols (Uhura from Star Trek) was one of the first black women on television to have a substantial role, and was as a result a role model for thousands of women and Blacks.

4. Because it's part of our culture. How many of you recognized the lines from the first three reasons? We know without an explanation what someone means by warp speed. Ray guns, transporters, aliens, time travel--none of these are unknown concepts, even when they aren't everyday objects.

5. To explore the impossible. Or at least the impossible right now. Did you know a lot of technology we take for granted and are developing right now was first suggested in science fiction? We have 3-D faxes--replicators! Arthur C. Clark first talked about satellite communications years before we launched our satellites. NASA is working on VASIMR drives for spaceships, and Japan recently launched its first solar sail craft--ideas made known in science fiction stories while still far-off theories in scientific journals.

6. To explore ideas. How would humans act if a plague knocked out 90 percent of the population? What if we always fought wars through computers? What if humans could live forever? What if you could go back in time--but only for eleven minutes a shot? Some ideas can only be examined in a science fiction setting.

7. You can learn a lot while enjoying the adventure. Science fiction writers often have to do a lot of research into everything from physics to genetics to animal sciences in order to craft convincing stories. Writing is a great way to learn things--but many times, much of that information comes out in the text, too, and not in a boring "just the facts" manner of a textbook.

8. We are a technological, forward-thinking society. Why shouldn't our literature reflect that?

9. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. Science fiction and fantasy are a big genre. Eighty percent of the top grossing movies in the US are science fiction or fantasy (source: http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10131), and the number of books--and readers-continues to grow.

10. It's sheer escapist fun. 'Nuff said! 

****************************

About the Author: Karina Fabian



After being a straight-A student, Karina now cultivates Fs: Family, Faith, Fiction and Fun. From an order of nuns working in space to a down-and-out faerie dragon working off a geas from St. George, her stories surprise with their twists of clich├ęs and incorporation of modern day foibles in an otherworld setting. Her quirky twists and crazy characters have won awards, including the INDIE book award for best fantasy (Magic, Mensa and Mayhem), and a Mensa Owl for best fiction (World Gathering). In May 2010, her writing took a right turn with a devotional, Why God Matters, which she co-wrote with her father. Mrs. Fabian is former President of the Catholic Writer’s Guild and also teaches writing and book marketing seminars online.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Looking back on 9/11, ten years later.

[A more clinical and objective view can be found here.]

When I first walked into English class at St. John's University, it was a little before 9am. The professor was one Dr. Robert Forman.  He was always entertaining, and there's something about him that tells you he cares that you learn something in his class.

The first person I saw was my classmate Tony.  I said hello, and he asked, "Did you hear something about a plane running into the World Trade Center?"

And I laughed.  All I could think is what idiot could have missed noticing that there were two rather large buttersticks in the sky right in front of him?

I explained that to Tony.  He agreed, and I gave it no thought at all for the rest of the 90-minute class.

I went from one class to another -- Christian Spirituality and Mysticism, 10:40am, taught by a priest whose name I can't recall right this moment.  He was not only pleasant, but happy.  He was also very Italian, and joked about it often.

When I arrived, the professor wasn't there, and someone came into class saying that classes were canceled.

Huh.  That's odd.

I went to the nearest inter-university phone and called my father -- who was an Assistant Dean at SJU.  I called, told him my class was cancelled, and how are you doing?

"Come to the office."

Ok .... click.

Walking from one building to the other required that I cross from Marillac Hall, past Council and Newman Halls -- a narrow corridor outside that was as well directed as any sidewalk intersection without a traffic stop.

Ironically, it was afforded the best view of the Manhattan skyline that the University had to offer, without going into the university library --- SJU is, for the record, the highest point in Queens.

But, I didn't stop for a second. My pace was quick and even, mainly because there were so few people in my way -- for once.

Though there was one odd bit of business going on at the time, something I found odd even before I made it to my father's office: there were clusters of people with their cell phones out.  After the third such group, I felt like I was in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

I walked into my father's office at the other side of the library, and before I could even open my mouth, my father said, "Planes have crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.  The twin towers are gone, and the Pentagon is burning."

And I remember this quite clearly, because I had a little red notebook with me at the time ... my first thought was "Didn't Tom Clancy already write this novel?"

My father suggested I go to the library, and observe the skyline.  by the time I got there, the library was locked.  So I walked back to the terrace I had just gone over.

Instead of a skyline, there were ground based storm clouds running from south to north.  I stood there for an unknown length of time, completely focused on it.  I didn't even notice my acquaintance Andy walk up next to me.

"I can't wrap my mind around it," he said.  "I can't believe they're gone."

 If I replied to him, I don't remember.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Nerd Rage: DC Reboot as "One More Day" gone mad.

Let me start by saying that this title is horrifically overblown.

Everyone who has kept up with the blog (or has even read the top five most read posts)  knows my opinion on Marvel.  I dislike how they screw with characters for their movie properties, or dissolve marriages in an arbitrary and capricious fashion with a ... deal with the devil? For most of this, I initially blamed Joe Quesada ... then I realized that most comic book arcs are proposed a year in advance, and I realized that Marvel would be feeling the effects of Joe Q at least until 2012.

My main complaint was that Marvel had MASSIVE, WORLD CHANGING STORIES...... that changed absolutely nothing at all.

When I initially discussed DC Comics, and what they've been doing, my complaint was that they kept shaking up their universe so much, the dust never had time to settle before they had another damn crisis. We were being Evented to Death.

And now, DC is having yet another "event," where they rewrite large parts of their own history.

In the past, when DC did this sort of thing, it was to make life easier on everyone.  DC Comics had the original "Crisis on Infinite Earths" in the 1980s as a way of consolidating their myriad universes -- Golden Age, Bronze Age, Silver Age, the Dark Ages -- and make them one universe.

Now it's starting to feel like One More Day all over again. (more below the break)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Terror is also a form of communication: Intimidating Characters

When I write a character, I like to have them a little vague.  This doesn't necessarily mean that they're all mysterious.  In fact, one of the most vague characters in A Pius Man, is the most blunt, and the most straightforward, and the person who's seemingly the most willing to tell you exactly what's on his mind.

Sean A.P. Ryan: mercenary,self-described cleanser of the gene pool, and he lists his resume in terms of property damage and body counts.

While blunt, Ryan doesn't necessarily have to be evil. After all, you have comic book characters like Wolverine who slash hordes to pieces all the time, and his kill count is probably somewhere in the thousands by now ... assuming he doesn't get rebooted into being a hippy....

But I digress.

However, in the case of Sean Ryan, he's working for the Vatican ... he's supposed to be training priests and nuns in nonlethal combat.  His third scene in the novel has Sean crippling an opponent -- not many people recover well from a shattered kneecap.

And people wonder why I make the Pope a suspect in A Pius Man ... if he's hired this lunatic, almost nothing could be put past him.

But, do you necessarily need violence for a good, intimidating character?  Heck no.  All you need is the implication that there will be very, very, very bad things that happen if someone crosses him/her.

Frankly, all you need is a reputation.

For example, take a clip from the tv show Doctor Who -- a series about a time traveling alien (there's a reason why there are Romans and spaceships in the same scene) ....




This is someone who has a reputation and is not afraid to use it.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Characters answering surveys: Scott "Mossad" Murphy


Have you ever gotten an internet survey?  It has strange questions like your favorite foods, and flavors, that sort of thing.

Ever wondered what would happen if you had a novel character answer one of those?

I decided to have a little fun this week, so I decided to fill one of them out last week as my character Sean A.P. Ryan, mercenary, security expert, and weapon of mass destruction..  You've seen him mentioned on the sight, you've probably even read some of the short stories, including his "origin".

This week, I'm working on Scott "Mossad" Murphy, who you've also seen around the site a few times.

Yes, I'm a strange, strange person.....

***********

1) Your Name: Scott Murphy
2) Nicknames: "Mossad."  "The Goy," and "Hey, you."
3) City where you live?: Israel ... just Israel ...
4) School?: Harvard, Yale, University of Massachusetts.
5) Parents Names?: They're in WitSec, so, technically, I don't know them.
6) Eye color?: Dark Blue
7) Hair?:  .... It really depends on the light and the angle.
8)Pets?: None.  I've buried my fair share of Goldfish.
9) Siblings?: Yes, damnit.
10) Best Friends: I've got people I know from  the office.
12) Best Enemies: James Bond, the movies, and the people who make them.
13) Can you dance?: Do you count running?

Favorite TV Shows
Comedy: Burn Notice
Drama: MacGyver.
Reality Show: Night Court.
Science Fiction: Any Bond Film.

Favorite actor: Alec Guiness

WHAT BOOKS ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING:   That could be considered work product.

WHAT CD's ARE IN YOUR PLAYER RIGHT NOW?: Mozart.

WHAT'S ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?: Biohazard logo

FAVORITE BOARD GAME?:  Chess

FAVORITE MAGAZINES: Security Magazine

FAVORITE SMELLS?:  Usually that I'm still breathing is a good sign.

WORST FEELING IN THE WORLD?: When your cover has been blown before you're ready.

BEST FEELING IN THE WORLD?: When the cover isn't blown at all.

ROLLER COASTER SCARY OR EXCITING?: Scary as hell -- where I live, that's a target.

HOW MANY RINGS BEFORE YOU ANSWER THE PHONE?:  I don't have a phone, I answer dead drops.

FUTURE CHILD' NAME? If I get someone to spawn with, I'll let you know.

DO YOU LIKE TO DRIVE FAST? No.  Fast driving gets you noticed.

DO YOU SLEEP WITH A STUFFED ANIMAL? Yes, and it has a flash-bang grenade inside, just in case.

STORMS - COOL OR SCARY? They're only cool when I'm locked down in my house. Otherwise, they're just distracting, and they can sound too much like gunfire..

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR? : Volvo

IF YOU COULD MEET ONE PERSON DEAD OR ALIVE:  I have a very long list. I want to interrogate all of them.

FAVORITE DRINK? Bailey's Irish Cream -- I can drink them all night and not even get a buzz..

EVER BEEN IN LOVE?:  I'm a goy in Israel. When would I get an opportunity?

WHAT'S UNDER YOUR BED? File boxes.

FAVORITE COLOR CLOTHES TO WEAR:  Beige.

Do you believe in Heaven/Hell: Of course there's a hell, I live in the middle east. I'm already there.

Who is the person(s) you despise most?:  The guys in HR.  Bastards rejected me ... twice.
What is your computer desk made of? Oak. And hidden compartments.
What did you do last night?: Got tied up and thrown in a trunk with a bag over my head. It was all according to plan. Honest.
Dream car?: Volvo
Have you ever won any special awards?: Nope. Wouldn't dream of being noticed like that.
Do you like to dance?: Nope.
 Fast or slow?: Slow ... otherwise, they may notice you.

What is the stupidest thing you have ever done?:  I'm an American Catholic in Israel, working for Mossad. Isn't that enough?